Swapping Our Way to a New Life in the Conserver Economy

More and more it looks like the economy won't be snapping back soon to the good old go-go days; unemployment, the housing market, and consumer spending are expected to take years to recover. And that's with the optimistic economists. With money tight for millions, we're seeing a significant and lasting change from the consumer economy to the conserver economy in which the emphasis is on saving more, spending less, and thinking of the long term. But just because we can't spend like we used to doesn't mean we have to give up everything. Out of necessity, people are finding new ways to get the things they want and need in the new Conserver Economy, with swapping as one of the best strategies to do this. Jeff Bennett, CEO at Swap.com, is helping to make this happen.

Swap.com helps people tap into the rich resource they have in their homes already. We might not have a ton of money in the bank, but most of us still have plenty of valuable goods in our home that we aren't really using. It is estimated that we have over $300 billion worth of media in our homes in the U.S., and with other goods like fashion and athletic gear, the value of swappable goods in our homes could easily rise to $1 trillion or more. You might not get much selling most of these, but these goods provide a virtually inexhaustible supply for swapping. Starting with media like books, DVDs, music, and games, Swap.com helps people to swap with each other to get what they want for far less money than buying new stuff, and with out going further in debt.

Here's how it works: First you go to their website (www.swap.com) and sign-up as a member. You use their system to enter information on things you want to swap, and also list the things you would like someone else to send you. The swap.com system creates exchanges automatically, matching people up. Once you accept a trade suggested by the system, you buy a shipping label and send off your book. The only charges are for shipping, and a small transaction fee of about $0.25 to $1, for media being swapped.

"Business is going well," said Bennett. Swap.com was just founded in 2008 and already has almost a million members and over 3 million swaps under their belt. "This is a new category that is really an old category." While swapping by Internet like this might be a new concept, swapping itself has been around since the dawn of time, before there was money even. It's not hard to understand--people get it instantly because it is so straightforward and makes so much sense. You've got what I want, and I've got what you want, so let's swap. Setting up those swaps is a heck of a lot easier though with an on-line intermediary like swap.com to make it work. How else are you going to have access to not just one garage sale or Craigslist posting, but millions of garages all over the country?

In addition to mediating swaps on-line, Swap.com is working locally to create, organize, and sponsor local swapping events as well, blurring the line between on-line and off. They recently got involved with a 400 person event in Boston, and they're hoping to pull off 1000 events across the country for Halloween costume swapping.

Book and movie swapping is just the start. They've already moved into women's fashion, building on their existing on-line market place. And the sky's the limit for other product categories that can be swapped. The future may hold swapping jewelry, athletic gear, art, or even property. It seems like if you can own it, you can swap it.

The main motivation for swapping may be to save money, but it doesn't hurt that swapping is plenty green as well. While using recycled material in manufacturing can be a very green practice, simply reusing an existing product and using no new materials is probably the greenest possible way of doing things.

So if you're looking for a way to save money, and I've got a feeling you are, then give swap.com a try. It might be the first step to stop struggling and start living a new life in the new economy.

Glenn Croston is the author of "75 Green Businesses" and "Starting Green", and the founder of StartingUpGreen.com, helping businesses to start green, go green, and grow green. He is also the creator of the Home Sustainable Challenge, helping people everywhere to live well and go green in the new Conserver Economy.

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